Nancy Roman

What If You Fail?

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

This saying was popularized back in the 70s and is mainly attributed to Robert Schuller, a televanglist I didn’t much like. But I did like this axiom. And it came into prominence again in this decade as the result of a terrific TED talk by Regina Dugan.

Several years ago, I found the quote on a paperweight, and I bought it as a gift for my husband. My husband is a super capable guy, and I have never seen him fail at anything. But he’s cautious. He worries about trying things. He worries that he won’t be able to figure out new problems. He sometimes will not try stuff because he thinks he won’t be good at it. He doesn’t want to look foolish. He worries about failure.

I am familiar with these worries. Not only because I have lived with him for so many years. But because I share some of those same worries.

But somewhere in me, I have a intrinsic confidence that I can eventually handle whatever I need to. My husband has always handled what comes at him too. With as much or more success than I have had. But he doesn’t really believe it.

So I gave him the paperweight. I thought it might inspire him. Instill confidence.

A paperweight? Instilling confidence?

Great expectations from 3 inches of pewter. Yeah, that was a little naive.

But still – when you see or hear something everyday, sometimes it eventually imbeds itself into your brain.

And my husband has tried a few new things. He started horseback riding at age 71. At 73, he bought his own horse. That’s courage. (not pewter) He’s a cautious rider. But he rides.

As we get older, instead of being more cautious, some of us actually get a little braver. Maybe we say, “What the hell?” Maybe we want to fill our boring ebbing days with a bit more excitement. Maybe we have less to lose? Or maybe our dwindling fear comes from dwindling brain cells.

And as I get older, another question emerges that is as interesting to me as “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

It’s this:

What would you attempt to do EVEN if you would probably fail?

What do you want to do so badly, you don’t care about the outcome? If you don’t care if you fail, if you look foolish, if you’re laughed at or pitied….or even if (gasp) it costs you money?

I like to post on Twitter in the guise of my dog. It lets me say stuff I might be embarrassed to say as me. Yeah, that’s dumb. I have a sneaky feeling most people know it’s me. It’s a foolish conceit, but I don’t mind looking foolish. I don’t mind being a silly old lady who pretends my dog has a philosophical bent.

And just this week, Theo wrote:

I think if you only like what you’re good at, you won’t be doing much of anything, because you won’t try anything. You have to be bad at something first before you get good. You don’t play a concerto the first time you sit down at the piano. Everyone knows that. But the trick is to like the piano even when you are awful.

But what if you never get good?

I have been practicing Yoga for 18 years now. I am in the beginner class. If I am fortunate enough to still be taking Yoga classes 18 years from now, I am fairly certain I will still be in the beginner class. I think they call it a “practice” for a reason. There is no Yoga recital – just practice. I am terrible. I like it anyway.

Perhaps the key to being brave is the inability to be embarrassed.

My mother’s very best advice to me was: “You can do everything! You won’t be good at everything. But you can do everything.”

I’ve learned that failure isn’t so bad. It’s an outcome that’s not only possible, but probable. It’s survivable. You just need to stop caring whether you look foolish. Enjoy the experience, even if the ending is terrible. And, once in while, after you do something badly for a very long time, you may find that you start doing it pretty well. Then very well.

It’s rare. But it’s awesome. It’s worth it.

What do you want to do passionately enough that you don’t care if you fail?


  1. I do like your mother’s advice. It’s perfect.


    • Thanks. Both she and my father were extremely encouraging that us kids try everything. But they were very realistic in making sure we understood that we weren’t always going to succeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thought-provoking post, Nancy. I want to have a children’s book traditionally published!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Keep working at it! Did you know that THE HELP was rejected 63 times? Kathryn Stockett did not give up. She kept revising and re-submitting.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Failure is part of life, we all fail at something, it is how we handle faillure that matters

    Liked by 1 person

    • True. If you can accept your own failure and keep going, you just might have a happy life.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Failure is part of life, we all fail at something, it is how we handle faillure that matters

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Life, success or failure it’s worth the effort.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I won’t deny that success is more fun. But failure is not so bad!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Failure is a word to replace these few “maybe we need try again in a different way”


  6. I relate to this sooo much! I was in the beginner’s swimming class for at least three summers as an elementary -aged kid. And I need to be in the beginner’s computer class at least that many years! But, hey, at 80 I am still taking classes, still learning, still excited to be on top of the grass, eating solid food. Your mom was right… there is no end to the fun you can have if you take her advice seriously. You don’t have to be in the advanced class to enjoy learning – in fact us perpetual beginners have the most fun of all!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a friend in Zumba who has no sense of rhythm whatsoever. She is just a disaster. It is almost painful to watch her. But she loves it! It’s not painful to her – it’s a joy.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. “Enjoy the experience even if the ending is terrible. ” That’s perfect. I am like your husband. I need to stretch a little more than is comfortable. Thank you.


    • Most of us are the same. I am by nature a cautious person – but it’s offset by knowing that I feel so exhilarated when I’ve done something I didn’t think I could – even when I do it badly.


  8. Carol

    I want to paint. excellent post. thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, that’s an easy one! Just paint! For watercolor you only need a brush a piece of paper and an inexpensive set of paints to start with. (although I do advise prospective painters to invest in decent paints – because your results will be better and that will be more encouraging.)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Paula

    So true! I am bad (well, inexperienced) at lots of home repair tasks. But after working up my nerve, I have a go at most things I’m sure won’t blow up or burn down the house. (I do have a good sense of when I’m in over my head and call a pro instead). But I have figured out many things and I’ve got a few more to go. Would this be a first choice retirement project? Truthfully, probably not. But when I succeed, it feels incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s terrific. Years ago, a recently divorced friend woke to discover her toilet had a crack. She shut off the water, removed the toilet, got herself a new toilet, and installed it herself. She felt more exhilarated accomplishing that challenge than graduating from college!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Betty Mc

    Today’s topic really hits home as for several days I have been avoiding opening the box containing the shiny new Instant Pot my daughter recently sent me . I don’t understand why she thought this was something I needed since for decades I managed to put hundreds, possibly thousands of meals on the table for my family with a minimal number of kitchen appliances. Now that I live alone my microwave and slow cooker, in conjunction with my years old gas range, are more than enough for anything I may choose to cook. However according to my daughter, and numerous web sites, in this day and age no kitchen is complete without an Instant Pot. So to not have to tell her once again that I haven’t used it today I will open the box and read and re-read the no-doubt detailed manual as many times as necessary to get me confident enough to actually try it out. Other than an extremely slight risk of blowing it up when using the pressure cooker function what do I have to lose?

    Wish me luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    • good for you. I know little about Instant Pots, but maybe you could just plug it in, add a little water, and have a cup of tea.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ooooh…. you got my attention when I read that your husband started horseback riding at 71. Maybe there’s still hope for me to learn.
    This is such an inspiring post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I would definitely say to give it a try. My husband has found true love!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Doris Legere Kennedy

    Many years ago I had the good fortune to live right next door to a very eclectic little coffeehouse…. Jitter’s in Southington.. run by a truly inventive Shirley Bloethe, who is an energetic advocate for women starting their own entrepreneurial small businesses. I was at Jitter’s every chance I got enjoying the camaraderie of the regulars and visitors and the wonderful local talent of many budding musicians. That became my dream. I worked obsessively on a business plan (long gone now on a crashed computer…swarms of ideas that have never left my thoughts) and enjoyed, through observations, at many local church coffeehouses and cafes. I got to the point of working with VISTA volunteers at the local chamber and was at the point of scoping out locations in storefronts of quaint downtown’s such as Southington, Plainville and Collinsville and the like. And then I panicked….at 47 years old did I have the stamina to give 24/7 to a new career? What about failure, could I endure the embarrassment of realizing it was just a pipe dream? Do I leave a successful career for the unknown?….And in the end, those doubts won me over. Today I live vicariously through a bakery, cafe, coffehouse here in Myrtle Beach with all the elements of my long ago business plan and am content in just observing and offering up my ideas to good people that had the vision and the support and capability to see it through. I can sit back, be an observer, enjoy the delicious coffee, pastries, wonderful talent showcased at their weekly open mics, make tons of new friends, give gladly of many of my long ago ideas and watch them prosper, be grateful to watch my long ago dream play out… all in the comfort of what has now become my living room away from home. In the end I guess “I made the attempt” BUT “it didn’t REALLY fail” just took on a new life and it is making me very happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Ray G

    For me, I guess it’s mastering the clarinet, since I have recently already taken up trail (horseback) riding. I find that fingering the notes is the most difficult, what with advancing age being an obstruction to nerve pathways. One goal is mastering “Begin the bequine” by Cole Porter.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Raven Eyz

    You are such an inspiration! Be it in your blog, or Theo’s Pup Tips.
    I’m not afraid if failure, it’s more my health that holds me back. Having seizures robs me of sone memory and other issues.
    I’ve always wanted to publish a novel. Right now, I have to work on word a day definitions due to my seizures. My other issues bring on “brain fog”. I’m still plugging away teying to gather all my thoughts.
    I want to thank you for all of your positivity and inspiration! You are really a positive motivator. And I always look forward to your blog posts as well as your Tweets.
    Thanks for making me think!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Sepintar dan sejenius apapun dirimu, bila perasaan egois itu telah muncul, maka pemikiran pun tidak akan dapat berjalan.


  16. Well said and an amazing inspiration! I fully agree and can speak from experience that you have to be ok with failure in order to try something new. Failure is often only the beginning and the more it happens the more you learn. Your thoughts on the main focus question caused me to stop and think about my comfort zone, allowing me to experiment with how far I can push the boundaries and discover new enjoyments in life.

    Liked by 1 person

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